Seasons End!

It’s been a while since my last post and quite a lot has happened!

At Archerfield we had three original hives moved from Gosford and then we moved a fourth to take advantage of the Oil Seed Rape.  In June we carried out some artificial swarming taking the total number of hives to six.  However, not all the artificial swarms worked, and we were back to four viable hives by the end of June but still hopeful a mated queen would show up in the other two!

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At Gosford, we had six hives and carried out one artificial swarm to make seven.  With all extra equipment gone, there was no further opportunities to prevent swarms so we were just hopeful that by adding extra super space, we’d give them enough room.

At our last inspection at the beginning of July, before going on holiday, we thought we had 11 viable colonies and there was no signs of swarming.

However, being away for the rest of July, in what felt like the longest hottest period I can ever remember, was not the best beekeeping plan! Swarming season is May, June and July.  I know this. But in past experience, it’s been all over by the end of June. Not this year! We got back to several colonies that looked liked they’d repeatedly swarmed until there was nothing left. Those that had no queen before we left, still didn’t and were no longer viable. We had terrible trouble with wasps at Archerfield and, despite doing the usual wasp deterrents, the weaker colonies were attacked and didn’t survive.

To add to our troubles, the bees can be quite aggressive during inspections at this time of year and with my recent allergic reaction problems, we’re just not willing to carry out inspections that have an added risk. We therefore had a bit of trouble trying to get round all the hives and get a snapshot of what we thought was happening.

Our best guess is that we have four viable hives at Gosford.  They’re big, busy and we’re assuming their ferocity proves their viability. They looked like they had lots of stores but we’re currently feeding them sugar water and will continue to do so until the first week in October. Hopefully they’ll make it through the winter.

At Archerfield, our best guess is that we have one viable hive that looks strong and busy.  The other hive had little brood and we couldn’t find the queen. However, she could have started reducing her laying for winter so we’re not sure if it’s a worrying sign or not. We merged a queenless colony with this colony using the newspaper and icing sugar technique so hopefully, if there is a queen, we’ve boosted the colony numbers and they’ll go into winter a good strength. Again, we’re feeding sugar water and will continue to do so until the first week in October, after which time, it’s too late for the bees to process and store for winter.

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Before starting to feed, we took off all supers so that no honey would get mixed up with sugar water. I then started processing the honey but with a break at Sunday tea time for a quick trip to A&E. Having quite aggressively smoked the bees out of the last few supers without incident, we were pretty confident we’d made it home with only a few stragglers. True to form those few emerged and made their way to the patio doors where I let them out. However there must have been a pesky bee determined not to leave her honey because as I reached to pick up a super full of honey, I got a super sting on the finger instead. Without any gloves on, I got a full dose and had to scrape the stinger out with a knife. Even with Piriton and Piriteze already in my system from being at the bees earlier, I unfortunately started to feel unwell. After taking more Piriton and some steroids, Stuart wasn’t happy, so with EpiPen in hand, we made or way to A&E. Top tip to beat the queue, turn up with allergic reaction breathing difficulties! Anyway, long story short, A&E were brilliant, few more steroids, observed for an hour and I was good to go!  It’s that difficult call, do you wait in the house for half an hour to see ‘what will happen’ with the risk of having to call an ambulance or do you use that half an hour to get to the hospital but turn up and the medication has started to take effect? Stuart would argue the latter is the better option which is why he always puts me in the car and I love him for it!

On a final note, and apologies for such a long blog post, although it is disappointing to loose colonies, which I haven’t experienced before, it does free up equipment for cleaning, maintenance and disposal of old frames. It means we’ll start next season with enough equipment to carry out swarm prevention or splitting of hives to hopefully build up again. It also might not be such bad thing in terms of time and commitment as it’s been quite full on this year!

For those of you who have made it to the end of this blog – watch out for a honey sale announcement soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saving the planet one jar at a time!

Not only are the bees doing their bit for the planet but you are too!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who has returned jars to me for recycling.  I spent the afternoon de-labelling, scrubbing, rinsing and sterilising 80 jars!  I then managed to fill 66 of those jars with lovely honey ready for sale.

Whether the jars are new or recycled they are always sterilised but it was more satisfying to know these were having a second chance at life.  Lids are new as I don’t think they’re supposed to be reused but if I’m wrong, please let me know.

It’s probably a bit quick after the last batch but if anyone is looking to re-stock the honey shelf or treat family and friends, I have 66 jars for sale.

Just the usual…. all honey is pure filtered and has not been heat treated / pasteurised. It is not suitable for children under 18 months or if you are pregnant. It’s £4.50 for a 227gm jar.

Anyone interested, leave a message on FB and it will be on a first messaged, first served basis. Pick up from the house.

Anyone not picked up from the first batch – hurry or Joe will eat it 😉

New look Helen’s Honey!

I am delighted to launch the new look ‘Helen’s Honey’ for 2018!

I am very grateful to the amazingly talented Alison Andrew who has kindly given up her time and expertise to design this beautiful label for me.  It’s just perfect as I’m sure you’ll all agree.

I’m also indebted to Andy Rafferty for doing justice to the label with a fantastic print run.

I will be forever grateful to them both and will be passing on a free supply of honey!

So, down to business….

Honey for sale! This is the first batch of 2018 honey and will mainly be from Oil Seed Rape. I have 100 jars.

All honey is pure filtered and has not been heat treated / pasteurised. It is not suitable for children under 18 months or if you are pregnant. It’s £4.50 for a 227gm jar.

Anyone interested, leave a message on FB and it will be on a first messaged, first served basis. Pick up from the house.

 

 

 

 

Good news for me and the bees!

I’ll just get to the point – I’m going to continue my beekeeping journey!

Having spoken to the doctor, it’s ‘thought’ that the reactions I’m having are likened to a strong allergic reaction similar to severe hay fever. As a reaction to the sting, my body is releasing a disproportionate amount of histamine, with the suddenness and severity feeling quite alarming. As long as my tongue and lips don’t swell, I should be ok.  Well that’s the theory!

Armed with this information, antihistamines, steroids, an EpiPen, marigold gloves and a lovely husband, we’re going to continue our beekeeping adventure together. Stuart loves beekeeping too, so he’s going to reduce my exposure to risk, by doing more of the manipulations. If the bees are aggressive, we’re just going to shut up the hive and walk away. Anything risky, we’ll review and work out the least risky strategy. Having felt really down about the situation, I now feel more excited about the season ahead. I have to admit, I now get a bit nervous before an inspection and I take antihistamines in advance as a preventative, but it’s good news!

With this new strategy in place, we inspected the Archerfield hives last Saturday and half of the Gosford hives on Monday. We’d hoped to go back on Tuesday to do the other half at Gosford but the weather turned before we could go back and it’s been cold and windy ever since!

Stuart in action at both Archerfield and Gosford!

 

We were looking for signs that they were building up the colony with a nice pattern of eggs, larvae and capped brood cells in the middle of the box. We were also checking to make sure they were building up stores, hoping they might have started making honey in the supers, looking for queen cells as a warning sign of swarming and any signs of disease.

The bees are working hard at building up their colonies and making stores. There were no queen cells so they’re not ready for swarming yet and there was no sign of disease. Because of the prolonged cold weather, compared to this time last year, they’re behind in terms of colony size and amount of stores available. There was either nothing or almost nothing in the supers so no honey any time soon. But, looking on the bright side, at least they are now able to forage on the plentiful Oil Seed Rape, pollinate all the trees and flowers and hopefully, if the weather picks up, make some honey for us soon.

Bitter Sweet!

It’s taken me almost two weeks to write this post as we’ve had a bitter sweet start to the season.

The sweet bit first!  Stuart and I inspected the three hives at Archerfield on Wednesday 18th April and were delighted to see eggs, larvae and brood with a growing colony of bees. All hives were very light on stores and two of them had sustained substantial losses as the floor of the hive was littered with dead bodies, but they’d survived the long, cold winter.  Knowing the area was surrounded with Oil Seed Rape about to flower and hoping for the predicted sunny weather, we put on the queen excluders and the first supers of the season. They’ve got the brood box to fill with stores first but at least we’ve given them space to grown into.

 

The following day we visited Gosford and found a similar situation. All but one hive had eggs, larvae and brood with growing colonies. My worries about the Polyhive not surviving the winter after the snow ingress were unfounded as they looked fine, it was Hive 2 which didn’t survive for some reason! All the hives have 2017 Queens except Claire in hive 4, which has the original blue marked Queen from 2015, and we were delighted to spot her in amongst the workers. As at Archerfield, some of the hives had sustained heavy losses and all were light on stores. The hives that were double brood, the bees were in the upper box with the lower box being empty so we swapped the boxes around to give them space to move up as well as adding queen excluders and a super to each hive. Some remedial work is required to swap out old comb for new but we’ll get round to that at the next inspection. Although the sun has been shining, there’s still quite a cold breeze so we’ll need to wait until it heats up a little bit more before we can get back in. Hopefully we’ve given them all enough space for the moment and kept swarming at bay!

All in all, a great result of ten surviving hives and only one loss. We were really pleased.

Now for the bitter bit! I unfortunately got stung on the finger. An occupational hazard as your handling frames with bees on them and one that doesn’t particularly bother me.  However, on this occasion I started to cough almost instantly, my sinuses filled, I began to sneeze and my ear canals felt like they were on fire. We finished up as quickly as possible and retreated to the car where I took 2 Piriton and 1 Piriteze. When we got home I wasn’t feeling their effects so I decided, with EpiPen at the ready, to take my ‘in case of reaction’ steroids. Stuart wasn’t happy and decided we’d make our way to A&E and should all the medication kick in, we wouldn’t go in, but if not, we were headed in the right direction. Fortunately, the medication worked and I stopped coughing etc. so we came home. However, it was unpleasant and unsettling. According to my retired doctor beekeeper friend and Google, this would appear to be symptoms of anaphylaxis and it’s not the first time I’ve had this happen. So this has put the whole beekeeping activity in jeopardy. I’ve got a doctors appointment this Friday to discuss if further but I’m pretty sure I’ll be told that there’s no way of predicting the future, that I’m probably at risk and it’s my decision whether to continue or not!

I feel really sad about all of this and have no idea if I’m over-reacting or not. However, the bees are carrying on regardless so Stuart has offered to carry out the manipulations with me supervising to try to avoid any stings until a decision is made. I’ll keep you posted!

Has Spring finally arrived?

On the 1st of April, it felt like the weather was playing an April Fool on us as we put another block of fondant on every hive! With heavy rain and very low temperatures, April has been tough going for the bees.

However, it was lovely to feel a bit of warmth this weekend and I felt optimistic for the bees when I saw a honey bee on the newly bloomed flowers of the hawthorn tree in the garden.

As a rule of thumb, on the first day above 15 degrees, you’re supposed to do your first full hive inspection of the season. I mulled this over, feeling quite excited to get in and see how they were doing but then I thought, they’ve waited all this time for a lovely sunny day, to fly, to forage, to feel the sun and then a giant comes along, rips open their home and upsets them. No – we’re not doing that! Instead, we visited the Gosford Apiary and just observed. We saw every hive was active, had flying bees and they were bringing in pollen. This was a good sign as pollen is protein fed to larvae so that should mean someone is laying. Whether it’s a Queen or a Drone layer we won’t know until we’ve done an inspection but it’s an encouraging sight. I removed the mouse guards and adjusted the opening to be slightly larger to give them room to get in and out freely.

We carried on to the Archerfield Apiary and by the time we got there the hives were in the shade. There was no activity from the hive but we took off the roof for a quick peek and could see though the clear crown board that the hives were busy inside. Hopefully we just missed them flying. Again, we removed the mouse guards and adjusted the openings to allow them to get in and out freely.

The weather forecast for the coming weeks looks reasonable with sunny periods and temperatures ranging from 12 to 17 degrees. I’m hoping that the temperature will now remain in double figures so that there will be no mouse threat now the guards have been removed and that the bees will be able to collect their own food rather than us feeding them. If the forecast is to be believed, we’ll plan to do a full inspection on Thursday which will have given the bees a few days to enjoy the sun but not long enough to start misbehaving!

Has Spring finally sprung?

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Flood threat at the apiary!

As the snow melts, the water level is rising at the Gosford apiary.

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Once again, the Polyhive was a concern. It’s not on a high stand, like the other hives, but close to the ground and therefore had the potential for rising water to get in the entrance. On inspection this morning, we decided to move it to a stand left empty from the Archerfield move. However, this stand is much higher than the normal stands and the more I thought about it, the more it worried me that if the wind picked up, being light, the Polyhive would be at risk of blowing over. So, I went back this afternoon and moved it to a makeshift location but hopefully it will be sufficiently raised up of the ground, sufficiently moved away from the flood waters and sufficiently sheltered from the wind!

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Worryingly, I felt the water level had risen even from this morning. Hive 2, on it’s slab base, is now sitting in about 6cm of water with deeper water surrounding it. This is not good. It’s still a long way from the bottom of the hive but it must be damp and bees don’t like the damp. This hive is too heavy for me to move alone so I’m hoping to go back to the apiary tomorrow, with Stuart, and move it to the high stand I’d tried the Polyhive on. Being a wooden hive, it’s heavier so should withstand any wind.

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The other hives are, at the moment, on the periphery of the flooding. With more snow to melt, I’ll check in daily and take action if required.

However, good news at Archerfield. I checked today and the hives were snow free, flood free and the entrance blocks were in position. I didn’t open them to check on the fondant levels as it’s too cold and damp but I’ll do that job, both at Gosford and Archerfield, possibly Friday when the temperature is supposed to increase and the sun might make an appearance!

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Bees battle ‘Beast from the East’!

Stuart and I have been regularly checking the hives throughout winter and adding fondant when required.  As of last week, all eleven hives were warm and had activity.

With the Beast from the East doing it’s worst, Joe and I decided to walk through the Gosford Estate to see how the bees were coping.

The walk was beautiful and we emerged at the bees to find the road had been cleared but that the entrance to the apiary was pilled high with the removed snow.  Time to climb!

Having climbed the snow mountain we then found ourselves in a rather deep snow drift with great hilarity. As I sunk deeper, Joe shouted “spread your body weight, crawl like a polar bear!”

Finally arriving at the hives we saw that all the entrances were partially obstructed with snow, which we removed. We then discovered that in three of the hives the wind had pushed the entrance blocks back about 2cm and the gap behind the mouse guard was full of snow. We removed the mouse guard, scooped out the snow, repositioned the entrance block and fixed the mouse guard back on. Afterwards I wondered if, by being blocked with snow, this was in fact making a natural draft excluder and we’d just allowed the Beast from the East to blast the entrances again. However, it’s not good to have something wet and damp in the hives and the entrance blocks are supposed to be the draft excluders so I’m hoping we’ve done the right thing!

There was unfortunately one hive I was very concerned about. The Poly hive doesn’t have an entrance block and I don’t know why I didn’t think to stuff it with grass, but I didn’t! When we checked it, not only was the beginning of the entrance full of snow but the whole bottom of the hive was full of snow, touching the bottom of the frames inside. I scooped out the snow and thought the hive must be a goner but, when I shone my touch in, I could see bees moving at the bottom of the frames. I’m not sure how they survived this or, indeed, whether they will survive. However, I’ve now stuffed the entrance with grass, leaving a little entrance gap and Joe built a snow wall in front of the hive to protect it from the worst of the wind. Fingers crossed we’ve caught it in time and done enough!

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The hives at Archerfield are in a walled orchard and should be more protected from the worst of the wind. I’m not anticipating the entrance blocks to have been pushed back by the wind so there should be no damp snow encroaching into the hives. There may be some snow blocking the entrance but we’ll hopefully venture out at the weekend, when the roads are in a safer state, and can clear any snow then.

Oxalic Acid Vaporisation Treatment

It’s that time of year again when I like to zap those pesky Varroa mites with an Oxalic acid vapour! Although deadly for Varroa mites and humans, it’s a harmless treatment for the bees.

Hopefully, with limited brood this time of year, there should be very little Varroa mites protected in capped cells.  Therefore, the oxalic acid vapours should kill those Varroa mites attached to the bees, they’ll drop off through the open mesh floor and come spring, there should be a significant reduction in their numbers which in turn will reduce their reproduction. That’s the theory anyway!

Having borrowed the equipment from the East Lothian Beekeepers Association, I felt I should use the equipment as quickly as possible so I could pass it on to another beekeeper. However, family commitments and a flat battery in the equipment meant I couldn’t do the treatment over the weekend. With the battery now charged, thanks to the loan of a charger from my friend Euan, I was ready to go. Only one problem, as it’s potentially a dangerous procedure, I needed a buddy to do the treatment with. As it’s a lengthy process, Stuart didn’t have the time during office hours so it was Mum to the rescue! She accompanied and helped me at both the Gosford and Archerfield Apiaries and we got all the hives treated today.

Hopefully another step forward to a healthy and happy Spring for the bees!